There are just a few independent pharmacies left in Central Oregon, and business is booming.
The stress on employees and long wait times for customers at large chain pharmacies has been enough to pull people toward smaller businesses to get their medications.
The folks at Hometown Drugs in Madras know this firsthand.
“We’ve had a lot of people come over with a lot of frustrations with the waits,” Owner Jeanne Mendazona said.
In this case, bigger isn’t better.
“I think we just generally take a lot better care of people than they are likely to experience in a big corporate setting,” she said. “Once they’ve transferred, they are amazed. It’s like they had no idea that a business and a pharmacy would take care of them like we do.”
Staffing has never been an issue during the pandemic, but it’s a different story at big chain pharmacies.
“We’ve had ten pharmacies and technicians included quit [within the past year],” Walgreens Pharmacy Tech Bethany Follett said.
She says at the Redmond location where she works, more staff members have quit this year than ever before due to stress and difficulty managing tasks.
“The corporation keeps piling on more and more tasks for us to do every day, with the COVID test and the COVID vaccines and all these other little tasks they want us to do every day, and it’s hard to do that,” she added.
Short-staffing means longer wait times, and customers aren’t happy.
“We easily get yelled at five to 10 times a day over things we don’t control,” Follett said.
Wait times have increased by at least a half hour.
“At our particular pharmacy, you could call your prescription and we would have it done in 15 minutes. Our wait times now are more like 45 minutes to an hour.”
The staff fills or reviews around 1,000 prescriptions a day, while Hometown Drugs fills an average of 300.
“It’s just an overwhelming mountain of work they’re asked to climb,” Mendazona said, speaking about employees at larger chains. “I think those places sometimes get so bogged down in their processes that it makes it virtually impossible to get the end result that you’re needing to have in order to maintain your customer base.”
Employees at westside pharmacy in Bend also said they’ve drawn employees from places like Safeway and Walgreens.